Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Transit strike post-mortem

Long-time readers of Left Behinds know we strongly supported the transit workers' union against the MTA, the Daily News, middle-class white resentment, etc. Now, four months later, it's time to acknowledge the truth: Roger Toussaint fucked up. Fucked up huge, in fact.

Here's what happened: Toussaint accepted a deal. The membership rejected it narrowly. The MTA and the state went into full punishment mode, and have now succeeded in crippling the union, as expected.

Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union was fined $2.5 million yesterday for the 60-hour strike that hobbled the city in December and ordered to suspend its automatic payroll deductions of union dues for at least 90 days — a move that could cripple, at least temporarily, the union's ability to collect from its members.

I'm betting that the local ends up bankrupt and taken over by the national organization, which, if I'm not mistaken, is run by the former head of Local 100, the man Toussaint beat because members hated the last contract he negotiated with the MTA. Still, I have to believe Toussaint knew this was coming even as he planned the strike. It's not like the MTA made a secret of the fact that they were going to do everything they could to crush the union. As I argued in the immediate aftermath of the strike:

In the long term, the MTA still wants the TWU gone. And all of us should be rooting for the TWU, since as transit riders and residents of New York City the TWU is the closest thing we currently have to independent oversight of the MTA and its crooked books and sweetheart land deals.

Where Toussaint fucked up was not in calling the strike, necessarily. It was in failing to communicate with his membership. He got them what seemed to me like a pretty decent deal. Who knows why his members rejected it? Maybe they were just so furious with the MTA by then that even the modest compromises Toussaint made seemed like betrayals. The deal went down by seven votes out of something like 30,000. Now, with cooler heads, the membership has reconsidered.

The city's main transit union announced yesterday that its members had overwhelmingly approved the same contract proposal that they narrowly rejected in January, and its leadership demanded that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority now approve the deal.

Too late, says the MTA.

The authority brushed aside the union's demand yesterday, insisting that it had taken the contract terms off the table after the workers stunned the city by voting them down in January. Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the authority, dismissed the union revote as "an empty gesture."

Again, no surprise. When the bargain was first announced Pataki was huffing and puffing about how horrible it was and how he'd never allow it. Which SG pointed out at the time was patently ridiculous: "Kalikow is Pataki's bitch who doesn't sneeze without Pataki's OK, so whatever Pataki is spouting about not knowing about a side deal is completely for the sake of the national party."

Sadly, there's now no earthly way members get a deal half as good as the one they rejected in January, and their union is crushed, so they can't do shit about it. It's a complete fiasco for them, and for the rest of us who needed the TWU to help fight against the Ratners of the world.

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  • At 3:17 PM, Blogger Katherine said…

    The local news reported at the time that the first member vote which defeated the proposal was split along age lines - those who would pay more over the long term (younger workers) voted against, whereas those who were older or closer to retirement voted for.

    Yup, I'm a fellow New Yorker.

  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Hm. I missed that. Interesting.

  • At 1:34 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Plus I seem to remember reading that everyone assumed the proposal would pass, so votes against it were protest votes. Post-mortem surveys indicated that if people had realized how close it was to failing, a lot of them would have voted to ratify it.

    Pretty sad, all things considered. I don't think Toussaint is too much to blame, though.

  • At 2:00 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Do you have a link?

    I think Toussaint is totally to blame. Either he shouldn't have accepted a contract his members couldn't approve and therefore needed to understand better what their limits were, or he needed to communicate better to his members how imperative it was to approve the thing. He had to know they were only going to get one shot. I suppose some of the blame can go on that guy who led the charge against approval.

  • At 8:53 AM, Blogger Katherine said…

    This is kind of late to reply, but... While I respect the right of the union to strike, I still believe that Toussaint fails to recognize the harm he perpetrated on the poor minorities that travel great distances to get to work. I live at the southern tip of Harlem, and my train in the morning is PACKED with minority blue-collar workers. How did they get to work?

    I appreciate and believe in the union's pitch that their workers should have great health care and pensions since their jobs are difficult and life-shortening. However, he definitely failed to rally public support. Had he said (as my teacher's-union-member friend did) "all Americans deserve health care and a pension funded by their employer," a lot of New Yorkers might have said, "Hey, that's right!" rather than saying, "Fuck the union and MTA."

    I will say this, however. In my experience, the slow-down of service (trains remaining in the station to the allowable maximum amount of time, with the doors closed) has continued since the month before the strike until now. Plus, service is constantly disrupted, changed, etc. It's a mess. The MTA and the union are both hurting their own public support by providing crappy service. I would have been sympathetic... until I waited 40 minutes for a train.


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